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A top United Nations (UN) human rights official released a preliminary report last week blasting the Botswana Communications Regulatory Act (BOCRA) for potentially violating human rights on a nationwide scale.
UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, who visited Botswana from 13-24 August took issue with the Communications Regulatory Authority Act, 2012 (CRA) saying that government was using the Act to thwart efforts aimed at introducing community radio stations in Botswana.
“The Communications Regulatory Authority Act of 2012…includes no provision for local community-based broadcasting, despite the many occasions this has been brought to my attention, and the numerous applications which apparently continue to be made,” he stated.
He said any prohibition of the use of other languages, and this include(s) minority languages, would be contrary to fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression.
“It was brought to my attention that though private radio stations do exist, they are all based in Gaborone though they may be retransmitted to other parts of the country. Apparently none are allowed to broadcast any programme in any of the country’s minority languages,” he said.
According to Varennes’ findings, “Broadcasting licences for locally-based community radios have until now always been rejected, and in some cases this may have been partially motivated by the proposed use of minority languages in some of the proposed programming.”
He further stated that “it has been explained that community broadcasting might be considered to be divisive along tribal lines and be open to abuse by “subversive elements”.’
However, Varennes argued that “these fears appear to be misplaced, as most democracies – including in Africa – allow private radio broadcasting outside of their capitals.”
“Some of these (communities) such as in Francistown emphasise that community radios would provide “a voice for the voiceless”, and a democratising tool that would enable communities, including minorities, to express themselves in terms of their culture and way of life,” he said.
He quoted his own 2017 publication of my mandate entitled Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities in which he indicated that governments should serve the needs and interests of the whole population, including minorities, “to access the media and impart and receive information, including in their own language’ in line with the ‘principles of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness.”
Varennes said “In relation to private sector media, and in accordance with fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, this means minorities must be free to communicate among themselves in private media without obstacles to the use of their own language.”
He said equality and non-discrimination require the media sector to apply the principle of proportionality in ways that are flexible and appropriate, and that any financial or other support provided to private sector media be allocated in a non-discriminatory manner, including in relation to those using minority languages.
“The role of public sector broadcasting in minority languages is particularly significant in terms of promoting not only tolerance but also acceptance and creating a sense of integration among minorities where their own needs and interests are fairly reflected and communicated,” he said.
Varennes said Botswana has a long way to go in applying these human rights principles.
“Generally speaking, the use of languages other than English or Setswana is not provided for in the information or communication activities in the country. Even HIV/AIDS awareness-raising campaigns use only Tswana and English, although the Government tries to liaise with local organizations for the effective dissemination of the information,” noted that Varennes.